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Ridge Racer Vita Review

by Bronwyn Fraser

For as long as I can remember, racing has been something as alien as the bad-guys numerous action/sci-fi romps have asked me to combat. If it wasn't†Sonic and SEGA All Stars Racing, I was always in last place and frustratedly wondering why. But†Ridge Racer†isn't just any racing game. It's meant to be easy. It's designed so you don't have to think too hard on the intricacies of drifting, on car customisation and tire pressure. For the casual player, it's a forgiving holy grail.

But forgiving is a stretch too far. The†Ridge Racer†series is know for its simplicity, the ease with which you challenge corners and emerge victorious in a blaze of blistering speed. That is all still there. The racing side is still incomplex and straightforward, as well as fun and addictive. If only the appropriate add-ons and gimmicks had been included and nurtured, the fun of the race would not wear off nearly as quickly as it does.

Nitrous is generic, but fun.

This is mostly because there are only three tracks; three tracks that do not stand out a great deal (possible more as you advance through the game, however, some of the higher level players online were racing tracks unavailable to me). You just race around and around, and that the tracks are so forgettable certainly does not add to the replay value. They do look particularly clear-cut, thanks to the Vita's gorgeous visual capabilities, but even then the city skylines in the distance are blurred, and it's not like the player will be gazing into the distance appreciatively whilst furiously racing. Which leaves all creativity to the tracks themselves, and apart from one bend which stuck in my mind as a challenge, holding a drift in midair whilst coming out of a windy and hilly gauntlet, nothing sets itself apart or even seems to try.

So what is there to keep you interested but an upgrade system? Unfortunately the system feels restrictive and unrewarding. You pay the credits you earn during races (and only some modes even give you credits) for upgrade kits to install in your vehicles along three 'Groups', A, B and C. But these upgrades create some serious problems when it comes to multiplayer and will grate on your patience. One 'upgrade' simply told me: 'this is Group B. We focus on acceleration.'

No? Really? I could not have guessed. And the problem with the multiplayer stems from the lack of scaling with the upgrades. It does not matter how tightly and precisely you take those turns in-game, if the other player has more upgrades and has been playing longer they will always leave you behind with a screech of their tires and a blast of nitrous.

Tapping left bumper will prompt the game to take you into a drift, which you more or less control. Seasoned racers may see this as babying, rookies like myself will not mind so much.

You install your chosen upgrade kits, one to each slot, and off you go. They do make a difference, but they make other perk systems look absolutely equalising in comparison. You can choose to search for lobbies of your skill level, but there's no promise you will find them.

There are just five vehicles to choose from. To me they all looked the same, but to the game's credit they all did feel to perform slightly different. One I felt I had to throw a bit harder into a drift to make it obey - but if there were differences, they were subtle and easily overcome. You really do not notice them, making for a plateaued experience across all cars. Perhaps if the player was intimately interested in race cars they may appreciate the subtle details, but to the average player there is little love involved whilst choosing.

And there seems to be little love given to the online play, as well. There is a stunning lack of emphasis on detail in the lobbies, what feels like a massive oversight given the multiplayer is a large chunk of this already small game. There is no single-player campaign to race through, after all. Once you have picked your course for a lobby you cannot change it, meaning that if you do gather a lobby of players together you are all forced to endure the same map again and again. The only way to change it is to back out, scattering the players †back into cyberspace.

Not that there's much room for socialising. I do not condemn games that force players to behave in a civil manner, but it is virtually (no pun intended) impossible to interact at all whilst in lobbies except for choosing emoticons and a phrase from a pre-determined list. To so much as add a friend, should you want to, you need to remember their tag, back out of the game and add them from the Live area. It makes an already restrictive and juiceless experience that much more stale.

You are introduced to Ridge Racer by picking one of four teams. Your team is ranked against the other three teams on a global leaderboard, with every player from every team contributing. Every new day there is a new 'mission', introduced to you in an espionage-like manner through a series of screens with complex-looking backgrounds and a robotic, female narrator. For one day, Team Circlite may be paired in cooperation with another team in order to defeat the remaining two teams. But what are you meant to do? You cannot communicate with the other team, and there's not like there's much you can do whilst in a race. The result is that this added depth and daily variation feels completely insubstantial to the individual player.

The music is a saving grace. The theme for the multiplayer is quite interesting and actually almost provocative. It does get old, however, as it just repeats the same tune again and again in and endless loop. The music-in game is also to be praised. It it not perfect, but I did notice that the promised tunes that change upon your racing situation were incorporated, meaning that when you're neck and neck the music does its job and fans the flames of tension, changing depending on how tight the race is. The addition makes the races feel more alive and dynamic.

It is worth noting that female gamers (or other gamers who dislike what I am about describe) may feel immediately desensitised to the game upon reaching the main menu, where they will find in the background a young girl spread behind the menus. No, she is not dressed scantily, but nor can you see what is wearing, inviting the player to try and peer behind the menus. Her body-language is suggestive, awkward especially to the player who would rather she suggest nothing. Perhaps I am just rather sensitive to these kinds of representations of women, but there was just†no need†for her to be there. At all.

Ridge Racer is an esteemed series. It's not perfect, but with twenty-something titles released you would think Namco Bandai would respect the longevity of this formula. When you are up against a player of your skill the edge-of-your-seat experience shines through magnificently. Without having to worry too much about doing something really stupid and spinning out of control, trusting in the faithful formula as you will, all there is to focus on keeping those drifts tight and holding that speedometer in the red. It's white-knuckle, it's pulse-pounding, it's fun. But then, eighty percent of the time, you're half a track behind and wondering if you have the patience to bother putting in the hours so that, one race, you are that player in the lead. I've stopped wondering.


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